Soft skills & Gen Z: Helping today’s college students & entry-level employees

When I taught college full-time, I noticed a shift in student behavior in 2015. Most traditional-aged college students spent much more time with their faces in their phones than they did making eye contact, interacting with their peers, or paying attention to me. The entire classroom dynamic changed. I spent more time than I desired redirecting students, reminding them to put down their phones or close their laptops (unless they were using them for academic purposes).

It’s no coincidence things shifted in 2015. A few years prior, smartphones became more affordable, and mobile access was widespread. In addition, Gen Z is typically defined as digital natives born between 1995-2015. In 2013, most digital natives graduated from high school and entered the realm of higher education. Thus, by 2015, college campuses worldwide were saturated with digital natives.

What does this have to do with soft skills?

Everything.

I already mentioned the shift I noticed in classroom behavior in 2015. If we thought it might have been a problem then, it’s at pandemic proportions now. When we–anyone, not just Gen Z–chooses a digital/electronic device as a means for communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, and learning, we stop practicing many soft skills regularly. If we’re texting or messaging or chatting rather than talking over the phone (or better yet, face-to-face), our communication skills atrophy. Relying on channel lean communication versus channel rich communication also spells potential disaster, opening us up to miscommunication, which typically leads to conflict.

Communication skills aren’t the only soft skills that suffer when we rely more heavily on electronic devices, digital communications, social media platforms, and online resources. We also hesitate to reach out to others for help. We tend to collaborate less and rely on ourselves more (after Googling things, of course). We often experience increased anxiety about social settings and lose our ability to introduce ourselves clearly and confidently, to attend a meeting and participate in dialogue in a healthy manner, or to enjoy time around our peers, even time that isn’t structured or work-related.

This is the tip of the iceberg. I hope you’re beginning to understand why a soft skills gap exists for Gen Z, and I would propose, for many others who rely heavily on digital communications.

What can we do about it?

Here are some options.

Remember, students and newer employees often mimic what they see us do. Do them a favor and engage–for real.

Bethany Wallace
  1. Choose to put down your phones and interact more often using channel rich communication (face-to-face, preferably). This applies to EVERYONE. Remember, students and newer employees often mimic what they see us do. Do them a favor and engage–for real.
  2. If you’re a faculty member or administrator on a college campus, stop assuming all students want to participate in everything online. Research proves that Gen Z members score highest on the loneliness index and crave real interaction with others. Because they may be accustomed to spending 8+ hours daily online, though, they may be hesitant to convert to a more real-time, real-world environment… whether for learning or socializing. So be creative. Entice them. Invite them. Structure courses in a way which really requires face-to-face interaction, small group discussion, and presentations. Get them out of their shells.
  3. Consider soft skills training for your students. I’ve designed a perfect, easy, affordable means to train your entire student body or a small sub-group you identify as needing help. You can use this training program as a standalone means to improve soft skills with your students or recent grads, or you can use it to supplement your existing career services, career readiness, or soft skills training program.

No matter what you do, please do something to close the soft skills gap.

Reach out to me for help.

Prevention versus damage control: Invest in what produces change

Here are some sobering stats related to conflict in the workplace.

10% of employees reported missed project deadlines due to conflict in the workplace.

20-40% of most managers spend their work time resolving conflict.

In 2018, there were more than 76,000 workplace discrimination charges in the United States, resulting in more than $50 million in damages for victims in federal courts (EEOC).

These are only a few of the obvious reasons we need to stop confronting conflict on the back end. What we’re doing–damage control–isn’t working.

conflict prevention

When we do the same thing over and over, expecting different results, we’re proving we’re nuts. It’s not productive, and we’re wasting our energy and money from our organization’s budget. That doesn’t make sense.

Let’s consider a better approach: conflict prevention rather than damage control.

Instead of apologizing to clients for missed deadlines and scrambling to pull together the pieces, why not collaborate, build great rapport, and intervene at the earliest signs of conflict to ensure the team works together as well as possible to complete the project on time?

Rather than spending 20-40% of each supervisor’s time to resolving conflict, why not allot 40% of a training team member’s time to conflict prevention training?

Why not avoid shelling out millions of dollars in damages due to workplace discrimination due to escalated conflicts by helping colleagues get to know one another, communicate more clearly and effectively, and learn to respect one another through more regular (and better) training sessions?

The problem of more funding allotted to damage control than prevention is systemic in America. Take a look at our prison system. Or look at the way we deal with the environment. Think about the criminal enterprise of human trafficking and the sad approach to cleaning up that mess. It seems we, as humans, would much rather fund clean-up than prevention efforts any day of the week. We basically seem to agree that prevention is a great potential solution, but we’re hesitant to pay for it. Where’s the proof it’s going to work, right? We need numbers. Meanwhile, the world falls apart.

On a smaller and less catastrophic scale, in the workplace, our organizations collapse. We lose our best employees. Morale suffers. But we’re still hesitant to fund training. We’re still tentative about paying for more than one day of professional development per fiscal year. Let’s cross-train, maybe, but anything more seems wasteful.

Unfortunately the best teachers–in life and in the workplace–are pain and loss.

But here is the GOOD NEWS. While we wait for everyone to get on board and see the writing on the wall, there are actions we can take.

You can proactively participate in conflict prevention FOR FREE in your workplace every single day. Your actions will affect positive change in others, too.

Here are a few simple ways to be part of the conflict prevention solution.

  • Maintain open, competent, channel-rich communication in the workplace.
  • Practice gratitude and appreciation of others every single day. This has a trickle-down & out effect.
  • Put down your phone and open your mouth. Talk to the people you work with whenever possible to build better rapport.
  • THINK before speaking. Ask yourself: Is this Thoughtful, Honest, Important, Necessary, and Kind?
  • Take care of yourself on and off the clock. If you’re holistically healthy, you bring your best self to work and treat others well, too.
  • Pause before you respond to others whether verbally or in writing.

I would love to work with your team to increase awareness and implement solutions around conflict prevention. If you’re interested in soft skills training sessions or webinars on this topic, reach out to me to discuss options. Let’s talk solutions!

Putting down our anvils: Mindful communication as pathway to cultural sensitivity & inclusion

There are four common barriers to competent cross-cultural communication.

  1. Making decisions based on faulty assumptions
  2. Fear and ego
  3. Deep-seated biases and prejudice
  4. Miscommunication or misunderstanding

Experiencing racism and prejudice

Since age 10, I have lived in rural Arkansas. In case you’re unaware, let me fill you in on a secret about the rural South. In general, you’ll find racism and biases flourishing, with deep roots dug in. It’s thick down here.

Circa 1989 with my sisters, right before we moved to Arkansas

As a child, adolescent, and college student, I experienced a bit of this myself. You can’t have the last name Klonowski and totally avoid being the brunt of racist jokes and cutting remarks. After a discussion about World War II and Nazi hate crimes in history class, my teacher asked us if we believed Polish people and Jews were truly stupid, backward, or incompetent human beings.

“Of course not!” I piped up. “I’m Polish, and I have all A’s. And Marie Curie was Polish, and she’s one of the most infamous scientists ever.”

My teacher agreed with me and kept on with the lesson. But that provided heavy ammunition for some of my peers. Looking back, I know the only kids who mocked me were probably raised by very racist, insensitive parents or caregivers. But at the time, I did not understand the cyclical nature of racism and prejudice. I just knew that kids who’d never said a cruel word to me before suddenly seemed out to get me.

That’s just one mild example. Even though I endured some bullying and mockery in middle school, it died out eventually because there were more obvious targets. Hispanic immigrants. Blacks. Asians. Even some of my own family members made racist jokes; I balked, argued with them, and/or refused to remain in the room when they bantered this way. I didn’t change them–I just refused to allow racism to infect me.

Maybe I’m an unlikely candidate to have found a niche leading training and coaching on diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace. But here I am–because this matters. It matters to me.

Thankfully, I possessed certain soft skills which removed barriers to competent cross-cultural communication. And I grew determined to help others overcome barriers, too.

The key to removing barriers

When I lead training sessions on mindful communication as a pathway to cultural sensitivity and inclusion, I notice shocked and frustrated expressions on participants’ faces when I share an unfortunate but completely valid truth on this topic. Here it is:

If you’re not open-minded or willing, you will not change or grow.

Bethany Wallace

Read it again.

Unless someone is willing and open-minded BEFORE training or coaching begins, there is no way I can affect change in that individual, no matter how many coaching or training sessions we complete.

Isn’t that disheartening?

But it’s true.

The top three common barriers to competent cross-cultural communication (fear/ego, decisions based on faulty assumptions, and biases/prejudice) are insurmountable in the absence of open-mindedness, teachability, and willingness to learn and try new ways of thinking and doing. Flexibility. Agility.

All of these “unlesses” are soft skills. Soft skills are interpersonal skills which are a combination of talent and ability. While some of us are certainly naturally more open-minded than others, the good news is ANYONE can become more open-minded, more teachable, and more flexible over time with proper coaching or training.

Do you have lots of employees who seem unwilling to change or grow, close-minded, and inflexible?

Don’t shove more DEI training at them. Start with soft skills training instead, specifically focused on open-mindedness, willingness, flexibility, and agility.

Here’s more good news: the fourth barrier on the list is miscommunication/misunderstanding. Guess what? ANYONE can improve communication skills rather easily. It’s simply a matter of gaining awareness of pitfalls, learning about competent communication, then applying principles of competent communication.

And THAT is why I focus on communication when conducting DEI training or coaching.

Taking action

Want to start improving your own cross-cultural communication skills? Try implementing these five practices.

If you need greater assistance or want to discuss how to help your employees grow, reach out to me for help.

  • THINK before speaking: Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary, or Kind?” If it doesn’t meet these criteria, you shouldn’t say it (or you should modify HOW you say it).
  • Learn about active listening and practice it–regularly.
  • Listen more than you speak, especially when getting to know someone. You’re much less likely to come across as egotistical or uncaring.
  • Get rich: Channel rich communication is the way to go. This means avoiding “text-only” means of communication.
  • Focus on humanity. Tell your stories. Listen to the stories of others. Get to know people as PEOPLE rather than profiling them before you interact.

2020 Seniors: Experiencing COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all differently. Parents have adjusted their work schedules and routines, moving from traditional workplace settings to work-from-home arrangements. Employers have become increasingly flexible to accommodate working parents’ needs. Educators have adjusted to the virtual world quickly and with little to no training. Small business owners and entrepreneurs continually adjust to new CDC guidelines and regulations; for some, the pandemic has spelled economic disaster. For others, the pandemic has helped their businesses flourish. And what about college students? College senior Brooke Talley shares her personal experience during the coronavirus pandemic.

college senior Brooke Talley COVID-19 pandemic

Talley, a senior at the University of Central Arkansas, is working to complete a degree in speech-language pathology. She has garnered experience as a sales representative, a branch manager, and in a clinic in hopes of increasing her odds of graduate school admission.

“After graduate school, I hope to put my soft skills to work in health sciences in a creative, inventive way by providing the best interventions for my clients,” she shares.

Challenges and motivations during the pandemic

Talley is transparent about the ups and downs of her senior year; it has been filled with both challenges and motivations.

“Senior year is filled with important, scary-sounding classes and the feeling like you’re drinking from a fire hydrant of information,” Talley admits.

She notes the constant nagging thoughts related to what-ifs about grad school admission and questions about whether she’s studying hard enough. At the same time, Talley knows her desire to learn trumps grades and that her grades do not define her. She shares that she has decided to spend as much time as possible with her favorite people during her senior year.

Being a senior during the COVID-19 pandemic comes with unique challenges. It seems more challenging to find motivation when there is less structure.

“I have had to create a schedule for myself to follow so I can keep myself working toward deadlines at a steady pace. Without a schedule, I find myself thinking that I have plenty of time, which is a huge lie; I often only have two weeks left until a huge deadline! I also used to rely on extracurricular activities as a refresher and motivator, but now it’s all me,” Talley notes.

Talley expresses frustration with lack of connection to others, particularly friends and loved ones. While she knows others are struggling, too, she feels pressure knowing she may never get to see her friends again after graduation.

“I find myself waxing nostalgic. What are things I left unsaid–things I wish I would have set my studies down for just once? Road trips I missed out on?” Talley reflects.

After reflecting on these moments in the spring of 2020, Talley determined to improve her study-play balance in her final semester as a senior this fall.

Plans after college graduation

Because working as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) requires a master’s degree, Talley must attend graduate school. She is currently considering which graduate school best meets her needs and is completing applications. She hopes to gain experience in both a hospital setting and a rehabilitation center, both settings which challenge speech-language pathologists and provide creative treatments for patients.

“I love fast-paced environments. As a professional, I don’t want the same mundane case load – I want to be challenged with a wide variety of patients. I will have to experience a lot of settings before I find the right fit and hopefully find a job in my ideal field. Until then, I will just have to keep an open mind,” Talley states.

As 2020 college seniors plan their futures, whether their futures include graduate school or immediate job searches, may they encounter plenty of helping hands and friendly faces along the path. The path for these students has been rocky enough already.

Personal social media management: Don’t wear out your welcome

Here’s a thought on personal social media management: Don’t wear out your welcome.

Wearing out your welcome is easy to do. Think Cousin Eddie.

Uncle Eddie Like Totally 80sRemember your mom or grandma giving you that same advice about not wearing out your welcome when visiting friends in high school or college? Or when sitting in the hallway (covered in shag carpet, most likely) talking to your high school sweetheart, the lone house phone cord twirled around your finger seven times, cutting off circulation? Or when staying with relatives no more than three days out of town? No? Oh… well, my Gen X and late Millennial friends will get me on that one.

Sometimes we have a hard time reading other people. Why?

Because miscommunication just happens.

Think about the worst two or three job interviews or dates you’ve experienced in your lifetime. Chances are, miscommunication played a part in your misery. You might have HATED the interviewer or felt the role was a terrible fit. But did you communicate that clearly on the front end? Or at the point of realization? Maybe not… so it kept going. It may have created a horrible situation, albeit comical in retrospect.

When your wants and needs don’t match with the person’s wants and needs on the other end, there’s a good chance someone is going to walk away feeling hurt, disgruntled, annoyed, or at best, flattered but disinterested.

Miscommunication and marketing misalignment happen face-to-face as well as online.

handshake business meetingYou feel you hit it out of the park–yet your potential client never returns your calls. You think your initial meeting went SO well. You were sensing great energy. You gave your spiel. And crickets for days…

Or you’re so excited to share about your friend or colleague’s newest business venture, just to help her get off the ground. So you reach out to your network. You send invitations to a few hundred of your contacts on a social media platform. And only three of them accept. You feel disheartened. To make matters worse, a few of them change their settings, disabling you from sending future invitations to “Like” or “Follow” Pages. You’re offended! It’s not like you sent them an email chain letter six times in a row, right?

Remember what your mom told you 20 years ago about wearing out your welcome?

Same applies to social media management in the personal realm.

It is not JUST about wearing out your welcome or overusing personal influence within your network. It’s about the bigger picture of miscommunication and misalignment of mission or brand.

Here are a few common reasons for miscommunication and misalignment:

  • We make assumptions.
    • We love our friend’s business. Shouldn’t everyone we love? We don’t mind receiving 5-10 invitations to Like or Follow Pages per day. Why would anyone else? We love hearing about others’ business ventures when we scroll through our personal news feeds (not on LinkedIn, which is a professional networking site… I’m talking about personal social platforms, i.e. Facebook and Instagram). Why wouldn’t everyone else want their feeds full of this stuff? Reality: They are not we.
  • We communicate using only words (channel-lean communication) and hope our entire intended message is coming across clearly, concisely, and powerfully.
    • Spoiler alert: It’s not. Unless you’re a professional writer or marketing expert, it’s just not. This is one reason I am offering some free tips at the end of this article. So keep reading.
  • Our non-verbal message doesn’t match our words.
    • Too often, especially when we’re interacting face-to-face or over the phone, our voice tone, facial expressions, and gestures simply don’t match the words we say.
  • Our previous behavior, mannerisms, tone, or online brand doesn’t match our magical transition into the upbeat unicorn we’ve become.
    • In short, we’re not trustworthy experts or representatives. ‘Nuff said.
  • We’re selfish, or we’re afraid, or we’re egotistical.
    • Or all of those things. And when those things fuel our messages, we’re setting ourselves (and the receivers of our messages) up for either miscommunication or worse.
  • We don’t think clearly or carefully about our target audience, the audience’s needs/wants, or how to reach them well before hitting “send.”

Right now more than ever before, we’re all utilizing social media and digital marketing like crazy (and if we’re not, we better be… more on that in this video). This means we need to be more mindful than ever before about how we utilize social media, even personally.

Many people have previously used social media as a simple tool for connecting with friends and family members. This is fine–except when these same people attempt to use social media professionally or mix their personal and professional worlds on platforms intended for personal networking, it gets messy. Their online followers become confused (and sometimes annoyed) by the cacophony of content suddenly streaming in their feeds. It can be difficult to discern a person’s true identity in terms of predictability. Unless you know a person well and have known the person for years, you might find the new onslaught of invitations to like business Pages, recommendations to try products, and dozens of private online sales parties a turn-off.

How can you practice mindful social media management practices on personal social media profiles?

How can you show support to your friends’ businesses while avoiding miscommunication and misalignment?

  • Before asking friends to support a cause, “Like” or “Follow” a friend’s business or Page, etc., PAUSE.

Consider this. Let’s say you are connected to 1,000 friends, family members, and colleagues on Facebook. How many times can you persuade them–realistically–to consider your opinion and take it to heart? How many times will they act based on your recommendation? Odds are, not many. Use your influence sparingly and wisely.

  • Take action offline.

It’s wonderful to write, post, and rant about how much you love a business or nonprofit organization. But have you gone offline? Have you purchased a product or service from that business? Have you volunteered, served, or sponsored? Bought a gift card lately? Dropped by to check on the owner?

Put actions to your words. Rather than invite others to Like and Follow her Page, post pictures of you supporting her business–drinking a coffee she brewed, donning a necklace she handcrafted, or mailing a gift card she signed. Your post is a little more subtle. But it’s more effective because you will be promoting the product or service while indicating your direct support, too.

When you shove something down someone’s throat, chances are, that person’s going to choke… not taste it.

  • Spend more time planning posts than you do posting.

branding webinar 1This is what mindful social media management is about. If you’re considering writing or posting in support of an organization or business, PAUSE. Wait at least 24 hours. Think about HOW you can best support that organization or business. ASK the owner: “Would a meme, a video, or a text-only post best support you right now?” or “Would it help you more if I invited five of my carefully chosen friends to Like or Follow your Page, or would it help you more if I wrote a recommendation of your business on Google?” Rather than selfishly selecting what is easy for you to do, do what will help your friend more.

Here are some ways to show support of businesses and organizations you love.

Some of these suggestions require more than clicking a button online. But these suggestions matter to business owners and nonprofit leaders. They matter because the outcomes of these actions make a big difference.

  • Write recommendations on social media, Yelp, Glassdoor, or Google.
  • Host a mini fundraiser for a nonprofit organization you love.
  • Volunteer. Even if it’s a one-time gig, your time is invaluable.
  • Donate goods, services, or products.
  • Create videos endorsing your favorite business or nonprofit.
  • Be funny. Create hilarious memes featuring your favorite product, service, or employee.
  • Send snail mail. Write a thank you card to the business owner or leader. Actions like these boost the spirits of hard-working people more than you can imagine.
  • Spend your money. If you are able, support the business you love financially. Eat at that restaurant. Purchase a handmade coffee mug. Consider hiring a local lawn care expert.

If you feel guilty after reading this article because you’ve mismanaged social media for way too long, that’s good! That means you’re ready to grow and improve. Let me know when you’re ready to change–I can help.

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 and the long-term changes to the workplace landscape

Yes–things are different. Change can be overwhelming. But all things in our lives will continue to change. And we must, as a society and as leaders in the workplace, adapt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID stress leaderHow are you–as a leader in the workplace or as a business owner–adapting? Five or six weeks in, it’s time to adapt if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or frustrated. If that describes how you’re feeling, I genuinely suggest you seek help through a life coach or professional counselor. I can refer you to excellent professionals who offer online services. This pandemic may be the most traumatic thing you’ve experienced, and that’s nothing to apologize for; it is something to face.

Here are some ways I see the COVID-19 pandemic permanently altering the workplace landscape FOR GOOD in the United States.

Disclaimer: There are plenty of ways this pandemic and our national response have altered the economic and workplace landscapes in negative ways. Other people can write about negative impacts and outcomes. Let’s dig into the good stuff.

Many full-time employees in very rigid, traditional workplace settings have gained the opportunity to work remotely.

Will this be temporary? I don’t think any of us know about exact time frames yet. But I believe this forced workplace experiment will permanently alter the workplace landscape. Employees who might have otherwise never gained this opportunity have now had it. Have they liked it or not? Either way, yay for experimentation and opportunity!

work from home remote workA word of advice to employees who have been working remotely and have enjoyed it: Don’t give it up. Do not return to work and to business as usual without attempting to retain your flexibility if you love working from home. If you were able to perform your tasks in a productive manner from home, why not ask if you can continue working this way? You could request to work remotely. Or you could request to work one or two days per week from home. If working remotely does not hinder your performance or make it difficult on others in any way, there should be no reason your employer should say no. There’s never harm in asking.

Here’s another suggestion: If you ask, and your employer says no, ask why. Take notes.

Keep those notes, and then begin looking for another job with more flexibility. It might take you a long time to find the right fit. But it’s better to look for something better for two years than to spend the next 20 years feeling unsettled or disgruntled.

Many traditional, rigid employers have been forced to allow employees–who begged for flexibility and remote employment opportunities–the chance to work from home.

And guess what? We’re not hearing countless reports of employees blowing it. They’re holding it together even though they’re simultaneously teaching children and parenting.  Isn’t that AMAZING? Grown, responsible adults doing jobs without other adults walking around every 30 minutes to watch over them… Crazy. During this pandemic, while wearing multiple hats, if your employees been able to be even half as productive, they are proving that working from home is a conceivable option.

work from homeWill these same employers continue to allow flexibility and remote work options to their employees when COVID-19 social distancing restrictions are lifted? I hope so. I hope employers have learned a valuable lesson about trusting employees to behave responsibly.

A word of warning to traditional employers who are chomping at the bit to return to their rigid ways: Be careful. Your employees have likely enjoyed flexibility. They probably don’t like commuting or sitting in uncomfortable, poorly ventilated, outdated offices. Maybe they are working while wearing pajamas. And they might not like you, either, or looking at your face daily. So if you’re going to reject requests to continue working remotely, be prepared with legitimate reasons.

A better option: Say yes—or say yes partially. You don’t have to allow employees to work remotely all the time. Flexibility is wonderful. Allow employees in a department to work out their own schedules with some at home on Mondays, and some at home on Fridays. People are pretty creative, responsible, and productive. Keep them accountable, meet regularly, and ask them to produce solid results. But try trusting them–and see what happens. You have already survived this pandemic. Why not give flexibility a chance?

Some clients have reported that as a result of COVID restrictions, they were forced to cut budgets.

They had to lay off more than half their staff. In some cases, they told staff they hoped to rehire when restrictions were lifted. In other cases, employers did not make promises.

One client privately disclosed that she was grateful for this pandemic for one reason: it forced her to trim the fat. She knew some employees were unproductive and ineffective. Those employees took too much time to manage. Yet she liked those employees as individuals, so she hesitated to fire them. The pandemic gave her the perfect opportunity to get rid of them. They could apply for unemployment–better unemployment benefits than usual–and she could permanently lower costs.

Many employers may not admit this, but I have a feeling this has happened in multiple organizations across the United States. If you’re a business owner, however you do it, maybe trimming the fat isn’t a bad idea right now. How have you been wasting money, time, or energy? Who has been spending too much time killing time at work? Are there tasks you’ve been outsourcing to someone who is not a true expert–you just have a really great relationship with the contractor? Maybe it’s time to evaluate your budget and develop a better business plan.

Colleges and universities may need to evolve (once again) to offer more “essential employees” degree plans, vocational training, and fast-track certifications.

How many Gen Z high school students will consider majoring in physical therapy now? Almost all physical therapists have been out of work this entire time. Dentists, too. Did anyone ever think a dentist would be unable to perform services and generate income? I didn’t.

This pandemic is a game changer in terms of forcing higher education administrators to reconsider the world of academia. Small, private, liberal arts institutions were already floundering, with enrollment down and finances amiss. More traditional institutions with faculty members who were afraid to even upload grades online? Gosh. Welcome to online learning management systems and to teaching exclusively online with a one week learning curve. Bless them. I can’t wait to see what’s on the course schedule for fall 2020 at the most progressive institutions. Those institutions will attract and retain students. And their students will obtain high-paying jobs which stand the test of time–and all the crazy stuff the world will throw at them, too.

And lastly, if you have been preaching to your business owner or manager about the importance of online branding, brand awareness, digital marketing, content management, or social media management, congratulations. YOUR TIME IS NOW.

social media managementAll my traditional clients who hesitated to consider these avenues for branding, marketing, and outreach are now nervous. They’re scrambling to find money to pay for a content management strategic plan (and its implementation). They know they must hire someone to manage their social media and other digital content (email marketing, blog, web content, etc.). In a time when people are mostly home-bound, practicing social distancing, and working remotely, the online market is all we have. And we know that if we attempt to reach people where they aren’t, we’re just fishing in dry ponds.

If you’re panicking, too, because you know your online brand amounts to a Facebook Page created in 2016 by a college student who volunteered for you one summer, it’s okay. Really–you will be okay. But you need help. So either hire a local professional or contact me, and we can figure that out.

Do you foresee other permanent changes in the landscape of the national workplace? I’d love to read your feedback. Please share your thoughts in the comments on this blog post. Thank you for taking the time to read and share with others.

 

Social media engagement: A gift?

Fulfilling your mission: Brand awareness via social media management

One way I help fulfill fulfill nonprofit organizations’ missions is by building brand awareness via social media. I’m no newbie to social media management. I have used it to communicate in the workplace since joining Facebook and LinkedIn almost 15 years ago.

adult-casual-coffee-1437541What’s different about managing social media for a nonprofit organization?

Typically, a nonprofit’s organization’s target audience is more varied. It includes potential and existing donors, employees, volunteers, clients/customers, board members, and community members. Creating and managing content for a varied audience can prove challenging but isn’t impossible. Focusing tightly on the organization’s mission, and highlighting examples of mission fulfillment, appeals to all audience members.

But the biggest difference? Social media engagement is a gift.

Social media management: A gift?

As a nonprofit organization, you rely heavily on donations and in-kind gifts to fulfill your mission, serve clients, and operate effectively. Thus, each click, follow, like, comment, and share on social media platforms aids in fulfilling your mission, increasing brand awareness, and encouraging financial giving. Did you know that across the world, 68% of donors prefer to give digitally (online or via text messaging)?

2018 Global Trends in Giving Report
2018 Global Trends in Giving Report

Social media management deceives many leaders. It looks easy, right? But to appropriately and effectively communicate online requires skill, practice, and expertise. If you don’t want to miss the chance to connect with 68% of donors who prefer to give online or digitally, up your social game.

Are you optimizing your organization’s use of social media? Do you understand that a 20 year-old college student who repeatedly likes and shares your content may eventually choose to volunteer to tutor your students, to host a fundraiser online, to tell her parents about your organization, to ask her coworkers to sponsor an event, or to pledge a monthly gift? Keeping the big picture in mind when managing social media is crucial for successful nonprofit social media management.

Contact me if you want help creating a social media management plan or keynote presentation on mindful social media management.

Feeling the pain: Employers respond to the soft skills deficit

The soft skills deficit

Five years ago, while teaching full-time as an English instructor at a community college, I became painfully aware of my students’ lack of soft skills. When I walked into class, I greeted my students. Many times, only a few would respond. The rest stared blankly at their smartphones. When I passed students on campus, I noticed similar behavior. Lots of heads in phones. Lots of headphones on. Lots of blank, sad faces. When students chose to engage in conversation, they often seemed awkward and unsure about what to say and how to interact.

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At first, I assumed they simply lacked strong communication skills. Since I taught English Comp and Oral Communication, I made it my mission to educate and re-mediate. I tried. But I couldn’t help students who didn’t register for my courses. And I also couldn’t force feed unwilling mouths (or brains).

That was 2014. There was something in the air… it was a real turning point in the way I viewed my students. Why?

The role of technology

At first I assumed my own perception had simply changed, or I’d just gained new awareness. But statistics prove it wasn’t my perception after all. Pew Research data from 2014-15 cites that Gen Z respondents claimed to use their smartphones “several times a day,” while VisionCritical research shows that Gen Z respondents in 2015 spent an average of 15.4 hours per week on their smartphones and another 10.6 hours on their laptops. And if you want to really dig into learning about the soft skills gap, pick up a copy of Bruce Tulgan’s fantastic book on this topic (I’m a huge fan).

As employers and educators, we are starting to feel the effects of Gen Z’s addiction to digital devices and internet access. In the end, digital natives grow up and become candidates for employment. And guess who’s left to deal with the great chasm between the ideal candidate profile, which features strong soft skills (which we all need to work well with others), and the reality of today’s average candidate? The employer. YOU.

What are you going to do about it?

I hope you’re feeling the pain as you read this. I’m not trying to be mean. But I know this to be true–most of us simply won’t take action and make changes until we feel pain or desperation. And most of us won’t spend money on training until we notice negative effects in the workplace.

For years, researchers (ahem… like me) have shared statistics, information, and tips about soft skills training, the soft skills gap, and the need for awareness about this upcoming epidemic. Unfortunately, most employers and educators didn’t take action. Developing training programs takes time, costs money, and can feel incredibly frustrating. Why should you have to pay for training? Isn’t it the university’s problem or failure? Maybe. Why should the university have to deal with it? Isn’t it the high school’s fault or failure? Maybe. Why should the high school have to handle it? Shouldn’t the parents do a better job? Probably.

Choices and actions

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When we stop pointing fingers, we’ll ultimately realize we’re left with two choices:

1. Continue ignoring the problem. This will get us into a greater bind, lead to organizational chaos, and cause our businesses to lose more money and become less productive.

2. Accept reality. We’re stuck with the problem, so let’s search for solutions.

Implement mentoring programs. Reevaluate your recruiting and hiring process. Take a hard look at your onboarding process. Train your trainers to teach soft skills, and if you have no full-time trainers, hire me to train your hiring managers to teach soft skills or to directly train entry-level employees or coach selected struggling employees.

There are solutions. And as with most situations in life, we become ready to take action when the fear of moving forward becomes less intimidating than the misery of our current situation.

I am here when you’re ready to move.

Contact me to discuss soft skills training, executive coaching, and other solutions.

 

Truth-telling in the workplace

It’s the age of truth-telling in the workplace. #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport are shaking things up; many people who have kept quiet for years are becoming brave enough to find voices.

What does this mean for human resources professionals? Awareness, training, and  attention to detail in reporting, as well as policies and procedures. And how does this affect other employees?

pexels-photo-622135While many victims of sexual harassment and assault feel emboldened to share their stories, others remain quiet for fear of losing their jobs or other forms of retaliation. Some employees may learn of situations involving harassment or assault in the workplace, yet fail to report these incidents for the same reasons.

Often, reporting sexual harassment or assault is difficult. Becoming a truth teller isn’t always the wide, easy path.

Let me tell you about two of my own experiences.

In my early 20s, while working in a middle management role, I was sexually harassed by a man in his 50s. He tried to convince me that I’d behaved in a way that gave him the impression that I wanted physical contact with him. He left my office angrily. He was in upper management and played a prominent role in the organization’s financial welfare.

I never reported the incident. Years later, I felt guilty for failing to report. I’m nearly certain I wasn’t the only woman he harassed. Yet at the time, I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. Because I’d seen how similar reports were handled within the organization, I felt certain my report would either be brushed off, or that somehow, I would be the one to suffer (asked to leave or retaliated against), not him. I loved my job, and I didn’t want that to happen. So I kept quiet.

Fast forward 10 years.

I worked for a different organization. I learned that a colleague was enduring sexual harassment, and the perpetrator was in upper management. Without giving it much thought, I reported the incident. What happened afterward is the reason I kept quiet a decade earlier. I ultimately felt compelled to file retaliation charges with a government agency against the organization.

Here’s the real question I know you want to ask me: Do I regret reporting the incident on behalf of my colleague? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Were there repercussions due to reporting the incident? Yes. Would I still report the incident today? You better believe it.

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There is never a wrong time to do the right thing. 

For me, reporting the second incident felt like the right thing to do–I had no doubts about that. There will never be a time when I will withhold the truth again in my life about my own suffering or the suffering of others. As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and adult sexual harassment, and after keeping silent too many times, I no longer have the ability to remain quiet. It is my responsibility, and thankfully, it is my right.

 

 

 

 

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